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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Mass Production

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The closing track of The Idiot is both the logical conclusion of it and the perfect bridge to Bowie`s next project, as it expresses itself through music that stands halfway between the dark electro-rock of The Idiot and the ambient sound of Low. The result is the most frightening track of the album, a chilling vision of the world transferred through sub-zero atmosphere. It feels like the end of humanity.

A couple of years later this style would become familiar as a genre called industrial music, which it remarkably fits into in both form and content. When it was recorded in late 1976, however, it was unique and ahead of its time. Bowie`s music does the work, providing a stark portrait of an industrial environment. Iggy`s singing completes the sense of dread and his lyrics are simple but effective.

Before you go
Do me a favour
Give me a number
Of a girl almost like you
With legs almost like you
I`m buried deep in mass production
You`re not nothing new

The singer is breaking up with a woman, but doesn`t seem to care much. There are many women like her and they are all interchangeable with one another. Humanity for him is an assembly line, producing women he can score with.

I like to drive along the freeways
See the smokestacks belching
Breasts turn brown
So warm and so brown

Normally, this would be understood as the singer saying that he likes to drive down the freeway and watch the scenery, which includes factories and women getting sunbathed. In the context of the record, it sounds like these women are being made in those factories, and their breasts are being tanned for his pleasure.

Though I try to die
You put me back on the line
Oh damn it to hell
Back on the line- hell
Back on the line
Again and again
I`m back on the line
Again and again
And I see my face here
And it`s there in the mirror
And it`s up in the air
And I`m down on the ground

The singer realizes that he is himself part of this assembly line of mass produced humans and by breaking up he is also putting himself back on the market. Furthermore, there`s nothing he can do to escape it. This system of mass human production is stronger than him and will always put him back on the production line. The end of the verse shows him feeling dissociated from himself, as if he is being dismantled and reassembled by the human factory in order to be put back out as a brand new product.

All the while, the relentless buzzing of the synthesized music continues in a cyclical pattern, like machines in a factory. But now it starts to screech and yell as if something went wrong and caused many alarms to go off. There`s nothing wrong with the factory, though. This music is merely the reflection of our hero`s psyche, waking up to the realization that he is a mass produced product, and the alarm it feels. However, he has no choice but to go on singing and keep being part of the charade.

By the way
I`m going for cigarettes
And since you`ve gotta go
Won`t you do me that favor
Won`t you give me that number
Won`t you get me that girl
Yeah, she`s almost like you
Yes, she`s almost like you
And I`m almost like him
Yes, I`m almost like him
Yes, I`m almost like him
Yeah, I`m almost like him

But the reassembly process is meaningless. There`s nothing new, nothing exciting – every new lover is almost the same as the last one. The current state of human relationship - hooking up, living as a couple for a while, breaking up - is like a production line in a factory which keeps producing the same products and only changes the labels. As we heard in the second verse, the singer wants out: he tries to die, but the human factory won`t let him do it and always fixes him and puts him back on the market (Iggy might be alluding to his life as a junky and the rehab center he just came out of). Is there a way out? This is the question that Bowie and Iggy`s next 1977 albums will ponder.

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